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This story starts with a dog, and ends with another. It’s long, and touches on sensitive subjects, with raw, open, honesty. The last 10 months have been quite a journey, full of sorrow, shock, a moment of extreme clarity, a lot of contemplation, reflection, unexpected dreams, and then resolution, when the dream became reality.

It started with watching the slow decline of our elderly dog, Kasha, who had a number of health issues. The most difficult was degenerative disc disease, and as last summer turned to fall, she was having increasing difficulties controlling her rear legs.

Then came a shocking phone call, when I found out my spinal x-rays didn’t show the herniated disc I expected, but instead showed that I, too, have, “severe multilevel degenerative disc disease,” on top of everything else.

I was caught way off guard. I had been working on the premise that I am going to get the ME/CFS under control, using all my supplements, and that one day, once I figure out these migraines or get thru perimenopause, I was going to be back to some semblance of myself – I know there’s damage that will always be there, but I think there’s a lot that can be fixed, too, slowly, over time.

But, it’s basically going to be with me the rest of my life. There are a few things I can do, some supplements and maybe some physical therapy, and I’ve gotten a TENS unit that helps. But my spine is very unstable – I’ve been going through periods for two years, where I “throw my back out,” and I can feel the discs moving out of place, and pain and sciatica flares like a bonfire.

After absorbing this news, I walked out into the living room to find that Kasha had lost control of her bowels, and there was a trail of poop leading through the living room and onto the porch. She was lying there looking so very ashamed.

It triggered a moment of extreme clarity, a frozen moment in time, where I knew two things for certain:

Kasha was at her “red line,” the place where dogs with degenerative disc disease are no longer recoverable – it was not going to go away with rest and time, and was going to be the end of her, and soon.

And just as clearly, I felt that I, too, now have a red line, though I’m not to it yet. My mind played it out for me… me with a walker, or in a wheelchair, although I don’t know how I could even use either because of a torn up shoulder, and the weakness and utter exhaustion of ME, CFS, fibromyalgia, etc.

There was the feeling of a door slamming shut in my mind, those images simply shut out. I won’t, I simply can’t, live in a condition where I’m bed bound and need a wheelchair just to get around. And I won’t be that kind of burden on Rhiannon and Ben, either.

I wasn’t afraid.
I wasn’t sad.
I felt acceptance.
And, much to my dismay, I felt relieved.
Relieved, because the long fight would be over. I didn’t realise how very tired of the constant struggle I was.

I didn’t so much as make a decision as have one thrust on me from deep in my soul. Just as Kasha would find her peaceful end, in a beautiful, sacred, manner, when the pain became too much and when she couldn’t rise, I too, would find that place.

I have many friends, fellow patients, who have to use wheelchairs or walkers or scooters, and I have the utmost respect for them.

But that’s simply not something I can accept.
I have been sick for more than 17 years, and almost entirely housebound for 10 years.
I cannot accept any further limitations on my ability to move around.

I am meant to roam mountains and walk through my beloved woods.
I am meant to be a wild thing, and I can barely take the captivity I have already been in for much longer.
I am the wolf, tightly caged, pacing back and forth, going slowly crazy from my longing to be free.

But here was this realization that I wasn’t ever going to go running barefoot again, through the golden autumn woods calling to my Heart that day, because my spine is simply too unstable. That’s a huge and terrible loss, and the shattering of all the dreams and plans I’ve been holding on to… I wanted to get well enough to be able to help some of my dearest friends, my soul sisters with ME, CFS, fibromyalgia, etc, maybe share a house with them, all of us working to heal each other.

I watched each day as Kasha had a few ups and lots of downs, and it was like watching a train wreck in slow motion, knowing it was heading my way…

In the months since that moment of clarity, and through Kasha’s gentle passing, the sacredness of her death, a gentle release with mercy, I’ve spent many sleepless nights, thinking about just what I wanted to do, and how much fight was left in me for this new, seemingly insurmountable, challenge to my health and my life. There are things I want to do, and things I need to do.

And then along came some dreams, and some info about dogs, that had me reevaluating how long I am willing to fight to go on.

Twenty years ago, living in fear from a relationship gone terribly bad, I lay awake in bed at night, too stressed and worried to sleep. I found solace in meditation and visualization (shamanic journeying). Usually, I would “go” to a beautiful forest at night, and run as a wolf until I finally curled up, safe, in my den. I’d fade off to sleep that way.

But one night, instead of being in my forest, I found myself high on a rocky outcropping, in a sea of rippling sand. I could see in every direction around me, see that I was safe. I laid down in the sand, pulled my cloak around me, and felt desert winds deposit a soft blanket of sand on me. For years, every night, I went to the desert to sleep.

I studied the desert as it is today, and as it was. I drove my family crazy with my sudden obsession with the desert. I didn’t explain that the desert had come to me, unexpectedly, but it was saving my sanity.

The decades passed, and I eventually went back to my forest – until my moment of clarity. Ever since then, every night, I retreat to incredible vistas of desert dunes, open caves and hidden chambers. This time, though, there is something else there with me: a lean desert dog, colored the same as the sand, and with electric eyes that look right through me. I know the feel of her soft ears, and my fingers remember the shape of her head under my hand.

Salukis, a beautiful desert Sighthound, have fascinated me since the desert came to me. They are perhaps the oldest of all dog breeds, and the only type of dog who was not seen as “unclean.” Desert nomads have cherished the Saluki for thousands of years. I’ve wanted to have a Saluki or Saluki mix for 20 years.

But now, through chance, I learned that most people in the middle east treat dogs in horrible, horrifying, ways. They do not value them as we do. Many Salukis and other dogs are simply dumped in the desert when the owner tires of them, or if a racing Saluki doesn’t run fast enough. Some racing Salukis have their ears cropped off “to make them run faster.”  The Salukis have bred with the many other dumped dogs, and now “desert dogs” are pretty much a breed of their own – small Sighthounds, usually with short fur and tails that spiral into a curl.

The pictures are terrible to see. Dogs so emaciated you can’t believe they are alive, or who’ve been viciously beaten, or thrown out of a moving car, leaving them with broken legs. Dogs who have been shot by the police, in front of children, when an area has too many strays. Dogs beaten with stones by children, who know no better. Need I go on?

It broke my heart.

The question changed from “when” to give up the fight, to a very simple, “do I want to die without first rescuing a desert dog? Or do I want to hold on long enough to rescue my dream dog, a true desert dog, and experience her life with me?”

Adopting a dog from the middle east can be somewhat complicated, but there are many groups and individuals there, mostly westerners, who are involved in rescuing the ones they can, fostering them a time, then finding them new homes in the U.S. and Europe. Some send the dogs to the U.S. first, and then put them up for adoption, and others work directly with those wishing to adopt.

I began watching the various groups on Facebook in late winter, and the number of dogs needing new homes is overwhelming. But if I was to rescue one, it had to be the one from my dreams…

And then, there she was. A desert dog with electric, topaz blue eyes, just as I’d been dreaming of. I really didn’t think she could exist. But she does.

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Ellie is about one year old, and was found dumped to starve or fend for herself. Despite that, I hear she’s an incredibly loving and gentle dog. She’s not too big, and not too small, either, weighing in at 40 pounds.

After weeks of working on arrangements, my Ellie will be flying from Dubai, in the UAE, home to me on Monday, June 27. What a birthday present!

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For me, Ellie is Hope – hope that I will have improvements in my health, and she is incentive to keep on fighting, keep on going, no matter how hard it sometimes is. By fulfilling my dream of having a desert dog, my motivation and inspiration to keep moving forward to experience her whole life with her is immensely boosted. That’s just how much I love dogs.

I’ve also become close friends with Ellie’s amazing rescuer, Charlotte, and with Marci, who is practically a one woman whirlwind of dog rescuing in Al Ain, UAE. I am completely in awe of what they are doing, and will be forever grateful for all the hours of work, time and money, that went into getting Ellie cleared to fly and come home to me.

I’ve set up a fledgling Facebook page for them, in the hope of helping other dogs find homes. It gives me inspiration, to know that I can still do something with my life, even if all that it takes is monitoring a Facebook page. I’m not completely useless, after all.

I believe everything happens for a reason. It was not coincidence that I learned about the desperate conditions for dogs in the middle east, and it was not coincidence that Ellie showed up in need of a home, the dog from my dreams, one I didn’t think could possibly exist.

Ellie of the Topaz Eyes is the fulfillment of a 20 year long dream. If she can happen, what else might be waiting around the corner? All I know is that I have Hope again.

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Kasha

“Veterinarians deal with death the most out of any medical profession.”

“Does it ever really get any easier, euthanization?” asked the first year student.

“Every euthanization is difficult, but some hit harder than others…”
– from “Vet School” (TV show, NatGeo Wild)

Is there any such thing as a good death? A beautiful, peaceful, passing?

Is there a right way and a wrong way for the owners, scratch that, the human family of a beloved companion animal to act, when they have to free a well loved furry family member from life, because of illness or injury? When the vet is there, administering the fatal meds, is there a proper or expected or normal way to act? Or do they see a whole range of responses?

Strange questions to ask, I know, but you ought to be used to strange questions from me by now.

Our vet cried, along with Rhiannon and I, when we put dear Kasha to sleep, on Nov 2. I’m pretty sure it was my actions that caused that.

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In her prime...

Let me back up, and set the scene… Kasha was 12 or 13 years old, quite old for a giant of a dog, weighing over 100#. She was a shelter dog, rescued from the ASPCA when less than a year old. She had been a member of the family a long, long, time.

Kasha had developed multiple issues, including deafness, a heart condition, gallbladder problems, and then, canine degenerative disc disease began taking a huge toll on her, worsening dramatically in August. She had muscle spasms in her rear thighs and legs, and stiffness, then finally started having a hard time getting her rear legs up, standing or walking. She just couldn’t coordinate her back legs properly.

I watched her those last two weeks with her spinal issues weighing heavily on my mind. I had just been told that my own back pain wasn’t just scoliosis or a slipped disc.

No, nothing is ever that simple with me. Instead, I have “severe multilevel degenerative disc disease” of pretty much my whole spine. And Kasha had the canine equivalent.

So the question on my mind that last few weeks was, “is she in as much pain as I am?” Because I was in a lot of pain, with sharp pains in my spine, feeling discs moving around, sciatica in my hips making it hard to get comfortable, no matter what position I tried.

Did she feel that way? I don’t think so, at least not until the last few days, and I dosed her with pain meds then, while we waited for it to be Monday, and the vet able to come…

Books on grieving pet loss all say when you have to be the one to make the call, that so-dreaded and very final decision, that everyone feels guilty to some extent.

I didn’t. It couldn’t have been any clearer, watching this beautiful, still so-very-loving, old friend, drag herself around with her front legs, unable to stand her rear up without assistance. How affectionate she was those last few weeks, relishing all the extra attention she was getting…

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A young Kasha, right after her adoption...

We were lucky, and a local vet has just started doing house calls. She had known we were almost there, and was waiting to get the call… and then it was clearly, so clearly, time.

The vet was running late that day, but it turned out to be for the best, I think. We had moved Kasha out into the yard, and as the sun fell and the light began to die, we brought candles, many candles, outside.

For an hour or so, Rhiannon and I sat beside Kasha, lavishing her with Love, expensive treats, and cheese. We told her how much she meant to us, swapped stories about what a good dog she’d been, shared the funny stories, and commemorated her life.

We were ready, when the vet arrived. She quietly asked questions, to understand the situation better. We managed to stop crying long enough to answer them. I suspect our tear-streaked faces told her more than enough.

The vet was gentle and patient, and Kasha was soon sedated, nearly asleep, her head in my lap… the vet waited until we were ready, to give that final injection.

My forehead rested on Kasha’s, one hand cradling her head, the other in Rhiannon’s tight grip, as tears streamed like a river over Kasha’s head. I whispered to her that it was okay, that she should fly free, my beautiful girl, away from the pain, and that we’d be okay.

Kasha’s nose against my leg told me when her breathing slowed, and stopped.

I don’t know how it is for other people in the same situation.

But as deaths go, this one was peaceful, reverential, sacred. An act of mercy, a setting free, done with so very much Love. I can only hope my own passing, when it comes, is such a gentle one.

And maybe that’s why the vet cried. I don’t suppose it’s every day she sees a sacred passing, a silently sobbing owner, forehead to forehead, eye to eye, with her beloved companion, as their soul takes flight.
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You’re in the arms of the angels, now, Kasha.
We Love you.
Now, forever, and always.


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Awake, yet again, in the deep of the night,
I listen to the breeze sigh through the forest leaves,
Sounding like the gentle caress of waves on the shore.
My ever present companion, Kodi,
Lays watchful at the end of the deck,
As I turn to go sit in my porch swing.

A loud snort breaks the silence of the Mountain,
Echoing all around us,
And Kodi is instantly alert and by my side.
A gentle woof escapes his throat.
“We don’t bark at the deer,” I remind him,
But they snort so seldom,
He has forgotten the sound.

We move as one,
My hand resting on his broad back,
To the screened porch,
And I hear the hesitant footfalls of our visitor.
In silence, I illuminate the big doe with my flashlight,
And Kodi and I watch her, together.

She is uncommonly pale,
The color of the deer we call Brazen,
But too skittish to be her.
Perhaps her daughter or sister, I muse.
I see the lines of the old Matriarch,
The biggest doe I’d ever seen,
In this one – the sheer size, large ears.
As she moves off, slowly,
I see she is limping slightly,
As she was a few days ago,
When last I saw her.

Is that why she is alone?
I ask Kodi, who looks at me quizzically,
And sits, faithfully, beside me,
In the dark, quiet, night.
I am never alone.

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It’s funny, what I forget, even now, after so long being sick. Sometimes, in my mind, I am still strong & healthy, as if time simply stopped passing when I became ill. Sometimes, it really feels that way, as if time did stop, and there is only The Before Times and a giant blur that came after.

But it’s been 15 years this month.

I had relapsing and remitting symptoms for a couple of years, and then in Dec, 1998, ME/CFS & FMS (and chronic Lyme) came to stay. I was diagnosed in 1999.

I just now, today, realized it was now actually the month of December, and the year is 2013, and that means it has been 15 years.

Time passes very differently for those of us with ME/CFS. I often am surprised at what month it is, or how long it’s been since something has happened. Sometimes I’m off by years when asked, “How long since…?”

One of the curses and also dubious blessings of this illness is memory loss. I remember things that happened before I became ill far, far, clearer than things that came after. Those 15 years are a fog, a ghostly mist through which I catch glimpses of events.

Sometimes, something or someone will trigger a memory, and something totally forgotten comes back. Sometimes, no matter how hard someone tries to get me to remember something, even some meaningful and important event, no matter how desperately I grasp for it, there is just nothing there. A ghostly mist where the memory should be. A blank slate.

But the not-remembering, the fog, and the complete lack of a sense of the passage of time, those things can be a blessing, too. If I had to really remember all the pain, misery, and suffering, of those 15 years, the frustrations, the losses… I’m not sure I could handle that. It is better that it is a blur.

Sometimes, because it seems like the last 15 years really didn’t happen, and I’m still that strong & healthy woman I was at 35, I forget, and do stupid things. Things my now-fragile body can’t handle.

Today, we are in something of a crisis as we are preparing for a severe ice storm, and I am totally stressed out. This stress is a huge problem.

My body’s been dumping adrenaline, making me think I am stronger and can do more than I am or should. It’s had this adrenaline dumping issue for months now and we haven’t been able to track down the cause.

Suffice it to say, whenever the slightest bit of stress happens, my body dumps adrenaline and prepares for “fight or flight.” This has led to a lot of pacing around the house like a caged tiger, sleepless nights, angry and irrational outbursts, a “manic & frantic” mental state, and is, in general, driving me and my very patient caregivers absolutely crazy.

Ice

The last 10 days have been incredibly stressful, with a severe ice storm last Tuesday & Wednesday leaving damage behind that I had to deal with, and now a second, probably even more severe, ice storm looming on Sunday.

I have pushed way far through the “energy envelope” we with ME/CFS are supposed to stay within, for day after day, goaded on by a flood of adrenaline.

And I’ve done a lot of really stupid things: walking around in the icy woods assessing damage, flagging down electric company workers…

I’ve been home alone for a week, as Rhiannon’s couple days’ visiting with Ben’s family turned into a week when she caught a terrible cold that I really don’t need to catch. So, I’ve been dealing with a lot of crap on my own that I normally wouldn’t – not just daily living, but getting power lines fixed, both at my house and a neighbor’s retreat cabin, being without cable for days and getting that fixed, etc.

Today’s really stupid thing?
When the electricians who are installing inside wiring for our emergency generator arrived, Kodi, our 125# Tibetan Mastiff/Rottweiler, went ballistic. He is head of security here, after all, and there were 3 people on the porch. His job is to protect me, and he takes that very seriously.

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2012 – He’s filled in considerably since…

The flood of adrenaline hit. I had to get him in the bathroom so I could insure their safety. I didn’t even think about it. I reached for his collar and he yanked himself away, rearing up like a wild horse. I lassoed him with a leash, and oh, he fought, just like the horses I used to have, before finally giving in.

Kodi understands something I still don’t, after 15 years sick, and 3 or so at this precariously low weight: He’s an incredibly powerfully built, 125 pounds of solid muscle, linebacker of a canine killing machine, and I am 107 pounds of skin, sinew and bone. I am not that physically strong woman anymore, who could wrangle a horse.

He is a dominant-aggressive dog by nature, and it took a long time and a lot of hard work to get him to submit to me as his pack leader. He still sometimes puts up a fight about that, especially when I’m in the frantic-manic mind-state that adrenaline puts me in, rather than the calm-assertive state I should be in.

It wasn’t until my adrenaline level dropped that I even realized my hand was hurting and damp. Leash burn, so bad it had blistered open and was oozing pus. And then pain in my fingers, my wrist, my back…

“What the hell was I thinking?” I asked myself, as I inspected my hand, noting yet again the hollows where muscles used to be. I wasn’t, I concluded.

Adrenaline fueled, my mind told me to take care of the problem.

Forgetting I wasn’t still that tough & strong woman who not only wrangled horses but also lived with wolves, I did.

Now I will pay the price. Hopefully, this time the lesson Kodi has taught me will stick, and I will approach him differently.

15 years I’ve been sick, and yet, still, there are times I don’t remember that.

And I don’t really know if that’s a good thing, or a bad thing.

But if ever I forget, and truly only see myself as this frail shell of the woman I once was, I think I would be done for. THAT woman has to live on in my mind, the ultimate goal, in order to keep going, keep looking for ways to get better. I will never be quite HER again… I will be older, wiser, and emotionally and mentally a hell of a lot tougher than I ever was. But SHE has to remain the goal, unforgotten.

I think that’s worth a little leash burn and sore muscles.

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Yesterday started with barking.

It ended with a bear on our front porch.

I rather think the two are related.

At 7am, my peaceful sleep was interrupted by Kasha-dog barking like a mad thing, along with, apparently, every other dog on this side of the Mountain. Kodi, curled up in bed next to me, let out a growl that would have made a tiger proud – low and deep and very menacing.

There was some yelling, I must admit, from Rhiannon and I both, telling the dogs to stop barking. It worked for a few minutes, and then the frantic barking started again. This went on for perhaps 15 minutes, and then, finally, we all got back to sleep.

There was a lot of barking from the neighborhood dogs all day long, with Kasha & Kodi joining in, which was quite unusual – it’s usually pretty quiet up here, and there was a strange tone to their barking.

Last night, I went to bed early, and was sound asleep when the barking started again, as it approached midnight. This time, it was Kodi and Kasha together, standing in our living room and barking at our front door. They were definitely barking the “intruder alert” bark this time. Many other neighboring dogs could be heard joining in.

Rhiannon was on the phone to Ben, and I heard her say how scared she was, as I emerged from my room, pulling on clothes along the way.

“There was something on the porch!” she told me, continuing with, “There was a lot of noise!”

I looked to Kasha, the wise old girl of our house, who had finally stopped barking. The motion-activated light on the porch was not on.

I tiptoed to the door and looked out, shining a flashlight through the glass, half expecting a raccoon or something to look back, but instead saw that a full trashcan was knocked over.

I thought it had moved on, whatever it was that was large enough to knock a trashcan over. I started to open the door, telling Rhiannon to hold Kodi, who does not recall yet.

Kasha I trusted to come back, and to protect me if whatever-it-was was still there. She was going out first!

I straightened the trashcan as Kasha ran into the yard, and began barking again, although, oddly, not as urgently as before.

Shining my light on her, I saw that what I first took for simple darkness was not darkness at all – it seems black bears are hard to see in the dark! Kasha was close to it, and I ordered her back and into the house.

A bag of trash was spilled onto the grass a good 20 feet from our cabin.

The bear was moving off, and I called Rhiannon out to see it, and we watched it stroll into the bright outside lights of our neighbor’s house. The golden and brown leaves crunched under it’s feet as it moved away.

It was a quiet night after that, and today has been quiet, too.

We’ve been here over 10 years, and this was the first time I’ve seen a bear at our house. I count it a blessing, this which I know terrifies others.

It has been a lean year for mast – the acorns, hazelnuts and other forest products that the deer and the bear need to fatten up on. From what I’ve heard, bears have been living on our mountain for years, and I even saw one a couple years ago, when it crossed the road in front of my car on the way up the mountain. So I have known they were around.

But I think seeing one is a blessing, just as seeing the elusive fox is, and just as watching the fawns grow up is. There is something very special about seeing animals in the wild, rather than locked up in zoos.

We are all neighbors here on one mountain, one planet, one Earth. We are all related… mitakuye oyasin.

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Sometimes, the truth hurts. But better the truth, and understanding, than living in confusion & conflict, imposing your values on someone else. For those that this hurts, I’m truly sorry. You’ll just have to believe me that it was as hard for me to write, as it will be for you to read.

I’ve spent much of my life looking for a place to call home. There have been many houses & farms, but I always knew they were temporary, the best we could find at the time, or the best we could afford. But until I found my humble cabin the woods, in my beloved Blue Ridge Mountains, 11 years ago, there weren’t any that were really, truly, home.

I had started to think maybe I would never really understand what it was to love a place so much that it was your heart’s home, that maybe I’d always be a gypsy, staying a few years here, a few years there.  But I’ve lived here longer than I have ever lived anyplace else, and don’t ever want to leave.

I’ve finally set down roots.

Even when I was growing up, where we lived was just a house, though, of course, I would say things like, “Let’s go home,” but it wasn’t home, not in my heart.

I have some vague memories of the house I lived in from 7 to 16 – a large, suburban house, backing up onto a swampy patch of woods. I had everything I could seemingly want: loving parents, clothes, nice furniture, more toys than any kid needs…  but still, it wasn’t my home.

My home was the Woods behind the house.

My spirit-sister, Daphna, and I ran those woods, usually barefoot in all sorts of weather, lest our shoes show we’d been into the “forbidden zone” – the area around the creek we loved, or elsewhere in that muddy patch of forest. We’d stash our shoes under a bush, and take off.

We knew every inch, every corner, every tree. We tracked the raccoons and other critters that lived there. We learned about wild plants; built rafts that always seemed to sink; caught tadpoles; found beautiful stones.

We ran like the wind, or the deer, as only a child can run, with utter freedom and abandon, leaping from rock to rock, and walked fallen tree-bridges, in total confidence, without fear.

But we weren’t supposed to be there. We were under orders to only follow the path that led to the small park, to play on the equipment there. I distinctly remember my mother telling us that if we went to the area of the creek, we might get bitten by a snake, or a rabid raccoon. That didn’t stop us. We went anyway.

I remember very clearly, standing one day on the path that led back to the house, as it started to get dark, when we were due back. Looking up at the house up the hill, I saw not a home, but a box; a prison; confinement; misunderstanding.

I was a round peg being forced into a square hole, and I hated it.

I dreamed of running away, to live in the mountains. Several times a year, we would drive the hour out to the Skyline Drive, which runs atop the Blue Ridge Mountains, and there, that, was my heart’s desire: woods that stretched for miles; babbling creeks; great weathered rocks; the glory of the Fall leaves; the beauty of the Spring flowers; breathtaking sunsets.

I remember being in the back seat of the car, looking out the back window, tears running silently down my cheeks as we would drive back to our house in suburbia.

Without Daphna, and the Woods, I think I would have gone crazy, and when she moved away, when I was 12 (?), it absolutely devastated me. The Woods were totally forbidden to me now – without a friend to go with me, I wasn’t allowed back there.

You can blame it on the Asperger’s if you want. But it was – and is – much more than that. It’s feeling things other people don’t. Remembering lives that happened before this life.

It’s valuing things other people don’t, and not caring at all about what they do.

It’s wanting something totally different from the people around me.

It’s still that way, with a very few exceptions.

After a lifetime of being a gypsy, moving from house to house to house, I finally found my heart’s home, here in my beloved Blue Ridge Mountains. It is only a humble cabin in the Woods, small by many people’s standards, always disastrously messy & cluttered, and often actually quite dirty (in the real dirt sense of the word – my beloved dogs track it in, and without energy to clean…).

But it’s my home, finally, a place I’ve set my roots down, after so many years of searching. A place I’ve set my heart and spirit to rest. And I love it.

Living here isn’t easy, especially for a chronically ill person. The driveway is rough by anyone’s standards, nearly vertical, and impassable in heavy snow. The house is not well insulated, if it’s insulated at all. It was built to be a weekend retreat for suburbanites from DC, not a full time residence. The kitchen is smaller than most bathrooms, which makes cooking in there rather difficult. The paint is peeling, and the siding could use replacing, and the floors could stand to be sanded and re-stained.

But what makes it home is it’s location, in my beloved mountains; the 3 sliding glass doors that open onto the screened in porch and large deck with the breathtaking beauty of the mountains beyond; the open floor-plan & soaring ceilings; the way it sits back from the road, so we have  privacy; the screened in porch that I use for carving my beads, all year long, protected from all but the hardest rains and fiercest winds; the yard the dogs, so absolutely necessary to my life, have easy access to.

It’s the quiet seclusion, so necessary when the almost ever-present migraines strike; the silence, away from sirens, with little traffic, no noisy neighbors.

And even more, it’s the trees in all their Autumn glory; the radiant sunsets that light the whole sky; the deer than amble, unafraid, through the yard; the great weathered stones that are everywhere; the trilliums, lilys, and daffodils we discover in unexpected places;  the violets that blanket the “yard” in Spring; the raspberries that fill our bodies with their all natural goodness; the well water that cleanses and purifies us, and runs through my veins.

What we have here nourishes my soul, feeds my restless spirit.

I wouldn’t trade my home, this land, and these mountains, for all the money in the world, or a million dollar house, or what you may think is an “easier” way to live.

You may not understand, and you may not value what I do.

All I ask is that you accept that I do value this life, here on the Mountain. And that without it, I see little point in going on.

Unless you are as sick as I am, you cannot know what it’s like to live every day, so sick, so tired, in so much pain.

You cannot know how it sucks the soul out of you.

Autumn Sky

Here, I have the chance for the only joy I will ever again experience.

Here, I can turn my head, from my big bed, and look out into the trees, the sky, the sunsets.

Here, the moon shines on me as I sleep; the stars light the sky overhead in a way they never can in the city; the meteors streak through the night and can actually be seen.

Here, I can spend my few minutes out of bed each day watching the ever changing world around me; see the many wild things we share the world with: the spotted fawns, the graceful bucks,  the elusive fox, and thrill at the flight of a hawk high overhead.

Here, I can sit in my hanging chair, on my porch, and rock for as long as I want, totally absorbed in watching the incredible beauty of the world around me.

Here, finally, is the place I call home.

Winter Sunset

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Note: This is why I’ve been so quiet this week, my friends – I owe everybody long messages. Sorry!

I teach people not to see a bad moment as a failure. A bad moment is actually a time for you to rehabilitate yourself, and you rehabilitate your dog, so it’s actually the most important moment in rehabilitation when the dog misbehaves.   – Cesar Milan

I’m watching episodes of Dog Whisperer off the DVR to get new inspiration, insights, and encouragement, in my work with Kodi. This quote struck me. If it’s the most important moment, we’ve had a lot of them this week! Rhiannon has been gone for 8 days, since she went to go camping last weekend and has been staying with friends since. She comes back today. It’s not a moment too soon – it’s been a long 8 days.

It’s been raining. Every single day.Sometimes pouring, sometimes dribbling, but always… raining.

Kodi hates to go potty in the rain. And we’re still working on that house-training – if the backyard is dry, he’ll mostly go out the dog door and go there. But if it’s not, he’d just as soon go in the basement, where a legion of dogs have gone before him for one reason or the other.

It’s been 8 long days of constant downpours, constantly being wet from taking him out back or out front on leash, mud (and other less savory things) stuck between my toes (why wear shoes when you’ll just have to wash them? Easier to go barefoot and stick my feet in the tub when I come back in).  Dog prints all over the floor, though those lessened when we gave up on going out into the mud pit (the dog yard) and started going out front.

It’s a little easier to understand, now that we know his background, as to why house-training is such a hurdle – he was locked up on a porch the first year of his life, so presumably got used to going there as he had no other option, and has had only a couple weeks with limited inside time before he made his way to the shelter. He’s never had to learn that outside is the place you go, whether it’s raining, snowing, or whatever. And he doesn’t like muddy feet, but time to be a dog and stop being so prissy footed – we live in a forest!

And the playing… I have thrown his toys down the stairs for him to retrieve over and over, every day, several times a day. Played tug of war endlessly. Given doggie-massages & brushed and brushed. “Claimed” Kasha several times daily as she nursed an injured wrist from a canine collision – she didn’t feel like playing, to which Kodi reacts with constant barking at her.

Did I mention it’s been a long 8 days?

Oh yeah, and I forgot to mention what else rain brings to my life…

Migraines. Every day. Sometimes bad ones, sometimes not quite as bad, but is there any such thing as a good migraine?

Here are a few choice quotes from messages I’ve sent Rhiannon this week – someday, I’ll look back on this post, and laugh:

“He woke up with me at noon totally full of shit. There was biting which he thinks is wrestling but didn’t feel too good, then fed him, then he stole a little scrap of sheepskin out of my room and we played keep away for a long while. Finally extracted it. Got his toy & threw that a couple times. He lost his grip on it & lunged for it & about broke my wrist in his zeal to get it back. I was not amused. He seemed subdued or apologetic for making that sound come out of me – the hurtmommy sound.”

“…he snatched a book off the dining table down there & tore back up the stairs with it. A long, long game of keep away later, I retrieved the soggy, filthy book from him & deposited it in the trash.”

“Yes, there are times when even I wonder if I love the boy, but the fact is I do, and I’ve been thru very similar things with pups before. Wolf-dog pups are the absolute worst pups on the planet – there was a time when every book I owned & every piece of furniture had teeth marks on it. At the rate we’re going here, it won’t be long before I’m back to that place! He’s just really hard to discipline – he’s eating a basket at the moment. He thinks I don’t know & he stops every time I look at him. But mama hears all. That’s what I get for having a basket on the floor of my room.”

“It is like living with a piranha! or a shark! or a crazed beast! He has to go pee at 4:30am. Okay, sure, I don’t care that’s its raining Kodi. Outside we go. Then he comes back in full of shit. I’m trying to get under the covers while he’s biting my arms & then he takes a chunk out of my shoulder blade!
He jjust finished vigorously digging a hole in my bed beside me! Twice! Raking up the covers & making a nest to sleep in!
This dog is nuts & my back hurts! He snagged all the skin over my shoulder blade in his teeth.
Gggrrrrrrrrrr!
(done venting)”

“I am watching dog whisperer for inspiration. I have decided already that I talk to him too much. But cesar’s tsst & touch doesn’t do jack shit on him – in fact it makes matters worse, as he gets the snarly face that says don’t mess with me. He also gets ramped up when you point a finger at him. I’ve been seeing a lot less of the snarly face, mostly when he’s barking at Kasha & I’m blocking him & claiming her.”

“He jumped up on the futon & I had to drag him off, but instead of going for the collar first I instead touched him real gentle & gave doggie massages. He barely bit me at all, very lightly putting up a protest.
“He barely bit me at all…” That’s a great statement about doggie-rehab, isn’t it? Well, I guess we’ve actually come a long way, it just seems like there’s a long way to go. I’m covered in bruises, btw. I keep trying to wash them off my legs but they won’t come off.”

So, we are making progress. It’s just slow, and I’m trying multiple approaches to getting this boy straightened out. I think the biggest issue we really have now is the biting-which-he-thinks-is-wrestling. I’ve gotten the aggressive-crazy-eyed-dog-biting down to near zero and can actually lead him with my hand on his collar.

But he wakes up raring to go, while I’m not so raring to go. He grabs my arm or wrist or whatever body part is handy as a way to ask for playtime, and while he is play-biting less hard, it would be really nice if he’d stop doing that altogether. Usually I respond with a chest scratch and that will settle him down, but not always.

He needs more exercise. Needs to be worn out – so tired he doesn’t want or need to play-bite me.

We need a treadmill. Seriously. Wonder if there are any used ones we could afford on our budget of zero dollars?

Did we bite off more than we can chew with Kodi? No.

Did we get more than we expected? Yes. Most definitely.

Will we get it sorted out eventually? Yes.

I do think he’s finally learning what the word “No!” means.

Now that’s progress!

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